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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I just plowed through the novel/collection of short stories entitled: Cold Snap by Cynthia Morrison Phoel.  I bought it via amazon.com this summer in hard copy–there’s no kindle version available. This said, it’s nice to read a book like this, to smell the paper to turn the pages to feel the weight of the book in your hands to see how much you’ve got left to read.

I wrote about this book the first time in June/July but I didn’t finish reading it until September and I haven’t made time to write a serious post about the book until now. It’s fitting considering winter is around the corner.

First off, this is a great book. Buy a copy of it. Read it. Love it or hate it. But read it.

Second, I can shake the feeling of burr after reading the book and thinking about this post. The book reminds me of my first winter in Sofia three years ago when I lived downtown in an older building without central heat. I spent the whole winter cold. Then in January it got even colder with the natural gas crisis. Thinking about it, I am not sure that I was really warm, warm between the November and March.  In comparison, last winter was a lot better.  And these days my classroom at ACS feels downright balmy.

Three years ago, I didn’t know that I was having a quintessential Bulgarian experience. But that’s how things like this always work. In hindsight, it’s clear at the time however, I was just cold. At the time, I couldn’t imagine that this was an experience that I would latter connect to other than to trade frustrated, humps with my teacher colleagues at the First English Language School.

Anyhow, back to the book, it’s a collection of interrelated short stories set in an imaginary town outside of Sofia.

Cynthia Morrison Phoel was a Peace Corps volunteer during the early years of the program shortly after the country opened up–post communism. From what I’ve read about her, when she was here in Sofia, she was a teacher in Pravetz.  Want to know more about her? There’s a great interview/discussion with Cynthia and Petya from the blog How to Marry a Bulgarian. (It turns out that Cynthia taught Petya English here in Bulgaria. How wonderful is that? The the foreign teacher in me loves it. The world it seems is a very, very small place.)

This said, the world that Cynthia created is stark and drab. (more…)

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Review: The Good Balkans

I’ve been reading a really depressing book about Bulgaria titled The Good Balkans by a British journalist Jack Hamilton. He paints a colorful picture of life in Bulgaria shortly after the changes–that’s the middle to late 1990’s and the 2000’s–but it seems to start off as a string of love stories but it’s actually a string of heavy, disappointing and crushing stories.

In his book, Hamilton traces the recent Bulgarian past in present day Bulgaria–generally the political, social, economic and religious pressures that the country faces today but which have been a big part of the country’s past as well.  I’d say that he gets a lot of it right–there are some really wonderful moments, where he gives words to things I’ve experienced and places I’ve been. These moments become shared experiences but in the end Bulgaria seems to have trampled on Hamilton.

He ends his book with this thought:

But there are no answers [to] these questions. Bulgaria is very good at hiding the solutions to its mysteries.

And this it seems to me is the easy answer–because it’s no answer at all.

Truth be told, this doesn’t happen to me much but when I got to the end of the book, I found myself frustrated. Why read this book at all? (more…)

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Ever wonder if and when I am going to read Under the Yoke? Ha, ha. Me too.

The good news is: these are the books currently on my beside table.

Reading Bulgaria

And Under the Yoke is among them.

I will read it. This year.

I just finished Cold Snap. It was hard to put down.  Really hard.

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I’ve been really caught up in my own life this past week. I made it back from my trip to Washington DC and my exploration within the Library of Congress just in time for a friends wedding and now I am getting ready to fly back to Bulgaria. What a busy summer.

Anyhow, I’d like to make it official. I’m in love with Truman Capote and his novel In Cold Blood. Yeah, I know it’s a little late for this confession seeing as he wrote and published the book 50 years ago, he’s no longer living and he was probably not straight but as luck would have it that’s okay with me.

T. Capote via the LOC

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked Truman and his novel for a while. Heck, I taught the book this past year in 11th grade but my recent experience at the Library of Congress has changed all of this.  It has elevated my like of this man to love.  Things like this don’t happen to me very often but it has. I can’t stop thinking about him.

About how great he is. About how clever he is. About what bad handwriting he has.

His handwriting you may be asking yourself. Yes. His handwriting. (more…)

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Cold Snap?

Hey, has anyone read this book, Cold Snap by Cynthia Morrison Phoel? What did you think?

For those of you not in the know, which was me just yesterday, it’s a new book or collection of short stories set in Bulgaria. Apparently it just came out in May and is written by a former Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Bulgaria between the years of 1994 and 1996.

What’s the most interesting is that the book is fiction. She even goes so far as to make up the town the book is set on. It seems like a good read.  I can’t wait to get my hands on it but it’s not a Kindle book (which is a shame!). So, I’ll have to wait until August and add it to my “to-buy” list in the States this summer.

Mostly I am interested in how other people are imagining, re-imaging and narrating stories set in Bulgaria. I mean, it’s not such a big field of literature so it’s also pretty easy for me to keep up.

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Today is April 1st. Day One of my Under the Yoke challenge and book club in celebration of the April Uprising in Bulgaria (if celebration is actually the right word).

Based on my last post, Me & Under the Yoke, the current members seem to be me, my MoM, Andreytcho and Martin.  We’re going to have a blast.

It’s not too late to join in or to simply read along with us in anonymity. I’m not the boss of you, you can pick. But, I do believe that reading is good for you.  It’s like coffee or dinner–both are more fun when you have someone to talk to and share the experience with. .

What do you need? Well, the ability to read, a copy of the book and a little determination. A glass of wine and some snacks wouldn’t hurt either and seeing as this is a virtual book-club you wont have to share these with anyone, unless you want to.

This said, I understand that this isn’t for everyone.  Hell, living in Bulgaria isn’t for everyone and neither is rakiya but I am still giving it a try. So I think that you should too but that’s me.  My little sister took one look at the book and thought: it’s too long and the names are too hard to remember. She’s apparently not going to join us. I mean unless I can guilt her into it but she’s pretty stubborn.

Anyhow, you should know you’ve got options.  It’s in the public domain. You can download it and read it in English on your computer, kindle or even PDF. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home in order to read this book.  Yeah it doesn’t really get much better than that.  I can only assume based on Andreytcho’s comment that you can also get a copy in Bulgarian as well.  I just can’t help you with that you’ll have to look for this on your own.

So now what? (more…)

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I finally got a copy! 25 leva later I am the proud owner of Ivan Vasov’s novel. And don’t worry, I am going to blog about reading it.  If you remember, I thought I’d start reading it for the March 3rd holiday in Bulgaria but that date came and went without me being able to track down a copy.

Luckily, one of my Bulgarian friends told me I should read it during the month of April as homage to the 1876 April Uprising in Bulgaria. That sounded good to me.  So, I am going to be reading the novel over the month April.  Okay, I’ve already read the first two chapters but I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read or I might have read the whole thing already.  I love reading.

Then I thought: why should I read this alone?

So I made my MoM buy a copy on Amazon.com.  She’s a good sport like that. I also told her that she’d be left out if she didn’t because I am going to be leading an “Under the Yoke” book club during the month of April.  No word on whether or not she’s received her copy yet.  Oh and for the record, she’s reading it in English–as am I.

Here’s the thing: two people a book club does not make (especially if three’s a collection).  (more…)

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